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MFA July 12-18, 2021

Updated: 2 days ago

Exploring Cultural Identity and 'Becoming Pākehā'; Making artwork; Crossings Exhibition at Adam Art Gallery; Research Skills with Librarians; and Ethics Workshop with Martin Patrick.

1. CULTURAL IDENTITY & BECOMING PAKEHA I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country

I've been reading NZ sociologist Avril Bell's writings that examine settler belonging and cultural identity in Aotearoa and how these might influence Māori–Pākehā relations in the future.

Bell begins by stating in her first article, Dilemmas of settler belonging: roots, routes and redemption in New Zealand national identity claims (2017):

"In any society the dominant national culture is typically unproblematically ‘at home’. The nation is first of all theirs and their belonging unquestionable. Within the New Zealand context however, the dominant national culture has settler – migrant and colonizing – origins. Their occupation of the homeland is then not so straightforwardly secured. Others were there before them. As settlers, they claim a national identity, but as Richard Handler (1990: 8) has expressed it, they are ‘not the natives of choice’ and remain plagued by an ‘ontological unease’ (Bell, 2006: 254)."

Bell describes two groups of strategies settler descendants use to resolve issues of cultural identity, belonging and ontological unease brought about by being a people who have benefitted from the marginalisation and impoverishment of Māori who were here first.

The first strategy used to construct a national identity "draws on established markers of ‘birth’, ‘blood’ and ‘belonging’" (Bell 154). Each of these I have used in the last semester to try and understand where I belong given I was born in England to an Irish mother and Kiwi father, hold mostly Irish and some English 'blood', and moved to New Zealand when I was five.

The second strategy Bell proposes to resolve dilemmas of identity and cultural belonging is one she discovered during her 2017 research and interviews with 8 young New Zealanders: the strategy of "roots, route, and redemption ".

  1. Roots: participants explore their 'roots' and question "whether or not a return to the ancestral homelands might provide the cultural belonging they felt they lacked" (Bell 154);

  2. Routes: 'routes' offer participants an "understanding their own ancestry from the historical changes and geographical journeys that are narrated in the family stories of identity" (Bell 155); and lastly,

  3. Redemption: confirming one's belonging to place by seeking confirmation from those considered appropriate to confer it i.e. indigenous people.

This strategy Bell identifies as being unique to colonial descendants in Aotearoa. It is a strategy that I have used also to try to justify my place in this country.

Bell's notion of 'redemption through identification' is contrasted with New Zealand sociologist Alison Jones' notion of 'redemption through reassurance'. Jones, Bell says, "has developed a sophisticated analysis of how the desire to be with Māori and to learn from and about them is a desire for redemption or reassurance that we/Pākehā are not implicated in ‘the violence of colonization and privilege’ (Jones, 1999: 313, also see Lattas, 1990: 60–1).

Bell suggests the redemptive process "is not about claiming to be Maori, but the desire to be like Māori, to be accepted by Māori in terms of belonging, a desire Jennifer Lawn (1994: 300) describes as a desire for ‘indigenization’ and a ‘postcolonial self-fashioning’ that takes the form of a ‘narrative of disowning one’s parents and imagining oneself adopted’" (Bell 158).

Both Jones' and Lawn's arguments against the reimaging of an innocent Pākehā identity are confronting and provocative and serve to unsettle those seeking an easy road to redemption.

In Bell's next article, Moving Roots: A “Small Story” of Settler History and Home Places, she offers a personal exploration of her cultural identity, sense of belonging and process towards redemption as a descendant of white settlers. Her willingness to examine conflicting feelings toward her great-great grandfather, an early settler to New Zealand and minister in a Government that 'acquired' large tracts of land from Māori, allows me to understand my situation more fully and help grapple with the complexity of emotions I too feel about my great-great grand uncle who fought in the 64th Battalion.

The role emotions play in forming attachment to 'home' is explored. Bell discusses how home can be either place or people based, situated in an imagined or natural reality, and how emotions feed an exclusionary sense of 'home' needing to be protected. She recalls French philosopher Micel Serres' description of the homely as “the hideous deadly passion for belonging, responsible for just about all the crimes in history” (quoted in Connor, 1995/2008, p. 9)!

Bell proposes complex attachments bind settler descendants to our "colonial history and the colonial present", referencing British-Australian scholar Sara Ahmed: "Through emotions, the past persists on the surface of bodies. Emotions show us how histories stay alive, even when they are not consciously remembered; how histories of colonialism, slavery, and violence shape lives and worlds in the present" (Ahmed, 2004, p. 202).

However, emotions can also offer new paths forwards. Ahmed suggests emotions "open up futures, in the ways they involve different orientations to others. It takes time to know what we can do with emotion" (Ahmed, 2004, p. 202).

Ahmed's insightful into the gradual unfolding of emotion and action reflects Aotearoa's slow journey over the last 5 decades to become a bicultural nation in keeping with the principles of Te Tiriti Waitangi. It is a journey that asks each of us to go beyond the convenient trap of emotional pairs of opposites (i.e. the “anti-politics", "antiracism", "anti-colonialism") in order to realise "different orientations to each other" as suggested by Ahmed.

Bell shares Australian sociologist Ghassan Hage's concept of 'alter-political', which offers an alternative mode of thinking and behaving, beyond anti-politics, that seeks to heal our fractured systems of politics, economics, social structures and modes of inhabiting the earth. Hage's alter political concept, Bell believes, offers a new way forward; "propelling us towards an alter-colonial future" of Māori–Pākehā relations.

This new alter-colonial future is a brave proposition by Bell and leaves me wondering (as it does Morgan Brigg in her essay Identity and politics in settler-colonialism: relational analyses beyond domination?) if it is at risk of "re-installing the hegemony of settler scholarship that empowers European perspectives by continuing the scrutiny of Indigenous peoples from the mythically neutral space of scholarship" (Brigg intro). Is it another path to finding redemption?

This issue aside, any alter-colonial future requires descendants of white settlers like myself to reexamine ourselves as Pākehā in a Māori worldview, or as Micheal Grimshaw states more succinctly: "I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country" (Grimshaw 2017).

Advice given to Treaty educator Jen Margaret, which she shares in a 2019 E-Tangata article titled Becoming ‘really Pākehā’, seems pertinent: "My entry to engaging with the Treaty of Waitangi was a political one which came with clear instruction from Māori and Pākehā mentors that, to be useful in this work, Pākehā need to be clear in our identity — to embrace it, not escape it" (E-Tangata, 2019). At the heart of being Pākehā is an awareness of "our privilege as beneficiaries of colonisation".

Grimshaw cautions us Pākehā settlers in our efforts to forge a new identity. He reminds us in his 2017 article I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country : "From the 1950s, we see the beginning of claims of a transition of Pākehā settlers in the North Island into a new Pacific people. For instance, the call in the 1952 Poetry Year Book was ‘to be a pale-skinned Polynesian instead of a sun-tanned, transplanted European…’ arising from ‘an adjustment of English practice to meet the needs of those stranded in the South Pacific.’"

In John Newtown's 2009 book Becoming Pākehā, the New Zealand poet and critic writes that being Pākehā is an “ongoing process of exploration, negotiation and critique”. Bell reminds us that Newtown says this is "a matter of 'learning to speak and act from that political space which our relationship with Māori opens up to us'" (Newtown. 40).

And so, I begin my journey of becoming Pākehā.


I'm continuing recording the memory traces of site and object in my local area, as I try to understand what tangata whenua means to me as a pākehā within a Māori worldview.

This time I'm capturing the impressions of Lions Rock (where I collected rocks for my response to materialism in semester one) via rubbings with rock (intaglio), pencil (relief), two drawings and photography. The small rock used is pitted with holes left by erosion. The rock has either broken off from the main rock face or joined to it but separated by gravel that has built up around it.

Eastbourne has a long history of coastal erosion and accretion. In the 1950s a seawall was constructed to protect houses along the shoreline from sea inundation, however commercial quarrying along Pencarrow Heads has exposed gravel seams from the 1855 earthquakes which is now causing coastal accretion.

Eastbourne and sea-wall under construction. Leslie Adkin, 21 January 1957, photographic gelatin. Te Papa, Registration NumberA.008057

There are a number of natural forces operating along coastal environments that cause gradual build up, redistribution and erosion of sediment eg. seasonal waves patterns, and tidal patterns resulting from the gravitational attraction of the sun and the moon on the oceans. The moon exerts about twice the tide force that the sun does and this is what Columbia Education says about the dynamics between the moon and earth's oceans -

  • The Earth and Moon revolve around the center of mass of the Earth-Moon system which is called the barycenter. The gravitational attraction of the Moon pulls up a bulge of water on the side of the moon facing the Earth. The centrifugal force of the Earth's revolution about the barycenter causes a second bulge of water on the side of the Earth opposite the Moon (the Moon's gravitational forces are weaker on the far side of the Earth and the inertial or centrifugal effect is stronger). So as the Earth rotates on its axis, for any observer on the Earth there should be two high tides and two intervening low tides per day. The Moon rises about an hour later every day because it orbits the Earth in the same direction that the Earth spins on its axis. Therefore, the tides should be about an hour later every day.

  • As the Moon orbits around the Earth every four weeks, the relationship of the Sun, Earth, and Moon changes. At the full moon and new moon the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned. At these times the gravitational and centrifugal force of the Moon and Sun combine together. The resulting spring tides are the highest high tides and lowest low tides or the greatest tidal range during the course of the lunar month. At the first quarter and last quarter, the Sun, Earth, and Moon form a right angle. At these times the gravitational and centrifugal forces of the Sun and Moon act at right angles to one another. The resulting neap tides are the lowest high tides and highest low tides or the smallest tidal range.

This makes me reflect on Rangi Matamua's description of Māori astronomy; a timekeeping system which recognises the profound influence of our closest celestial body, the moon, on our natural environment:

"Māori, similar to other Indigenous peoples, developed a complex time system integrating celestial, environmental and ecological ocurrences to track time and seasonality. The movement of the sun, moon and stars were used as markers to regulate the timing of agricultural, fishing and hunting activities, and ritual. The pre-European Māori system to time could best be described as polychronic and environmental. These systems were also regional, tribal and localised ... To date more that 500 Māori lunar calendar systems have been recorded" (Matamua p 67).

"Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar that delineates a year by the amount of time it takes the earth to orbit the sun, the Māori calendar takes into account the position of the sun, the lunar phases and the pre-dawn rising (heliacal rise) of stars...when determining time" (Matamua p 67).

Rereata Makiha shares how Māori used their maramataka (calendar) to gather and cultivate food

"We’re teaching our tamariki and our mokopuna to understand the tohu of the taiao — the signs of the environment — and not get distracted by the Pākehā science, which is based on tīkarokaro, or pulling things apart.

We don’t need to pull the fish apart to figure out how it swims. What we do is have a look for the hononga: how one thing supports another.

So, because our old people could read the taiao so well, they could tell exactly when the pohutukawa tree will flower. They knew that when that happens, a certain wind is going to blow, at a certain time of the month, and a tidal pattern is going to arise, and then you’ll find these fish eggs coming ashore.

And today, if you line all those elements up, every time we’ve been out to check, it’s been right on the button."

Rereata Makiha: Holding on to ancestral knowledge, by Dale Husband Jul 18, 2021

On maramataka





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